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Opinion: Why don't we have big campaigns for mental health?

Why do people develop mental illnesses? Why are some more susceptible that others? What treatment is best? There’s still so much we don’t know – and we really need to find out.

Fiona Kennedy

I CAME ACROSS this image yesterday:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.02.36

Image credit: Minds Like Ours

It really struck a chord with me. We often see images comparing depression to diabetes or other chronic illnesses, but this one seemed to pack more of a punch. Clearly I’m not the only one who thought this – in all the time I’ve been blogging, nothing, and I mean literally nothing, has grabbed peoples’ interest quite so much as this. My page almost imploded with the reaction. I think what’s different about this one is that it really, really explains depression in a way that people can get. There’s no jargon, no lingo, no pithy feel good cliché, just a simple statement.

The tip of the iceberg

The strength of the reaction to this got me thinking as well, particularly following on from a training course I was at on Saturday with See Change. A conversation developed around the idea of why people are so reluctant to put energy and time into fundraising for research on mental illness, yet have no problem supporting much needed research into physical illnesses. The current Shave or Dye campaign is a stunning example. It’s hugely successful, widely recognised, and grows year on year. There’s huge media support for it, and no one would think twice about agreeing to take part in an event around it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting the value of campaigns like this, not for a second. They do incredibly valuable work and have brought about huge change over the years. But wouldn’t it be amazing to see a similar campaign take off around mental health? I mean above and beyond the awareness raising campaigns that are doing such wonderful work right now… Pieta House’s Darkness into Light is one, See Change’s Green Ribbon campaign is another. But are they enough? One is raising funds for a single, albeit desperately needed service, the other is encouraging more open conversation around mental health, which, while similarly desperately needed is the merest tip of the iceberg.

Research and services are desperately needed

More than all of this, what’s needed is research. Why do people develop mental illnesses? Is it the oft-mentioned chemical imbalance? Our genetic make up? Something to do with the structure of our brain? And why are some of us more susceptible than others? Is there a more effective means of diagnosis? A more specific way of tailoring treatment? The list of questions is endless.

After research? Services. Services that are accessible to everyone, not just those who have private insurance. True, there are public services. But they are painfully stretched, and really, if you’re not in crisis, they’re not in a position to help. Services need to be put in place that work to stop the crisis from happening.

We can’t just wait around for answers, we need to find them

I realise that 20, 30 years ago, cancer was spoken about behind closed doors and in hushed tones. It’s taken a long time for that to change. I’m impatient, though. I don’t want to wait another 20 or 30 years for similar change to come about in relation to mental illness.

I want to see it happen now, because really, would you consider asking someone in the middle of an asthma attack why they weren’t breathing the freely available air? Would you tell them to snap out of it? That they’re not trying hard enough? That it’s all in their head? No, you wouldn’t. You’d help, in whatever way possible, because you might just save a life.

Mental illness is no different. We need to stop treating it differently. Talking is a start, but so much more is needed.

Fiona Kennedy is a 30(ish) year old, happily married, mam of two, living in a small town in Connemara. She has two crazy dogs, wonderful friends and a loving, supportive family. She also has borderline personality disorder and occasional depression and blogs about this at Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @SunnyScattered. Fiona is an Ambassador for See Change – the national movement to change minds about mental health, ‘one conversation at a time’.  

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